Often times, the issue of compulsory hijab is cast as being a domestic matter. Some in the West, especially certain well-intentioned politicians don the compulsory hijab without asking any questions, thinking that they’re respecting our culture.
When female politicians from the West travel to Iran and wear the compulsory hijab unquestioningly, they are contributing to our repression. They often say they wear compulsory hijab because it’s supposed to be our “culture”. WRONG! Compulsion has never been our culture. There are millions of Iranian women who don’t want to wear hijab. This is the culture of a repressive regime, not ours. Female Western politicians should not normalise this.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has used Western politicians’ submission to compulsory hijab in its dealings with Iranian women to tell them, “look! Even Western women wear hijab when they visit Iran. What are you complaining about?
Many Iranian women feel left out by the West when it comes to their struggles against repression. While Western politicians prioritise negotiating with our oppressors, our cries for freedom fall on deaf ears.
Women’s rights campaigner Masih Alinejad called on the international community during her address to the Oslo Freedom Forum, to ban the Islamic Republic from international sports events in response to the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. Alinejad also called on Twitter and Facebook to suspend accounts of Islamic Republic leaders until the regime allowed access to social media services.
As in every year, various human rights activists from different corners of the world gathered for Oslo Freedom House’s annual conference this year in September to defend the cause of freedom of speech and human rights. Speaking at this highly prestigious event, Masih Alinejad brought forth the case of various voiceless Iranian protesters arrested during the #IranProtests. She talked about the case of Navid Afkari, a champion wrestler, who was arrested during 2017’s protests in Shiraz. After being exposed to egregious torture in prison, Navid was swiftly executed recently despite the international outcry that his execution has engendered.
Navid’s execution sent shockwaves across various segments of Iranian society. Iranians of various walks had coalesced around the goal of saving his life as the hashtag #NavidAfkari went viral. This hasty execution of this wrestler gave rise to calls to ban the Islamic Republic of Iran from worldwide sports championships. Masih Alinejad reiterated this call throughout her speech.
Along with Navid, there are countless prisoners who are in death row in Iran. Unfortunately, highlighted by Masih Alinejad, their cases receive scant attention in the international media, especially on social media. What is mind-boggling is that despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter remain forbidden in Iran, Iran’s rulers use such media to spread their own propaganda worldwide. Hence, it behooves on the administrators of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter not to become platform for these human rights violators. “History will judge you”, said Masih Alinejad in reference to social media platforms and she called on them not to allow their platform to become a media for spreading authoritarian governments’ propaganda.
Opened by Marianne Hagen, the State Secretary of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this year’s conference featured other human rights activists representing different causes worldwide, ranging from the cause of Uyghur Turks in China to pro-democracy activism in Sudan, Opposition to Putin’s rule in Russia, LGBTQ and environmental rights in Cuba along with the famous opposition leader of Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
Their bravery is awe-inspiring. Despite the risk of getting arrested, these women openly opposed the compulsory hijab in Iran. Their names Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arab-Shahi and Mojgan Keshavarz.
Imagine being jailed for defending the most basic freedom: Freedom to choose what to wear! Elsewhere in the world, these women would have been celebrated for their commitment to women’s rights and feminism.
But in Iran, authorities have sentenced them to years of prison and they are being treated like criminals. As the world is presently grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, let’s not forget about these brave souls who are languishing in prison. Because freedom is not free.The international community should not turn a blind eye to the situation of these women. When female politicians visit Iran and submit to the compulsory hijab (under the pretext that it is the “Iranian culture”), they are also justifying the authorities’ repression of Iranian women. After all, compulsion has never been part of Iranian culture. Rather, it is the hallmark of a repressive and authoritarian system called the Islamic Republic, which has killed tens of thousands of Iranians fighting for freedom.
In the face of coronavirus, the Islamic Republic of Iran initiated a campaign of lies, deceit, and cover-up. They did so in order to hide the depth of the coronavirus tragedy in Iran.
In this CovidCon conference organised by the Human Rights Foundation, Masih Alinejad goes through how early on the Islamic Republic knew about the crisis, but attempted to conceal the facts.
There are at least 10 pieces of evidence showing that the authorities in Iran tried to cover up the coronavirus epidemic. Now, they’re trying to attribute the spread of coronavirus to American sanctions.
After long denying that the coronavirus had hit Iran, the authorities could no longer hide the outbreak. However, even then, they attempted to capitalise on the tragedy and shift the blame to American sanctions despite the fact that Iranian authorities themselves were directly responsible for its spread. By doing so, the Islamic Republic of Iran tries to blur the waters and wash its hands from the criminal negligence and mismanagement if the crisis by blaming the sanctions. As Masih Alinejad said,
“Some in the international community naively think they have to choose between the Islamic Republic and the Trump administration. No! You only have one option: human rights. Islamic Republic committed crimes against humanity”
I had the honor to open up the world premiere of “Women Warriors: Voices of Change,” concert performed by Orchestra Moderne NYC & the talented Amy Andersson. I spoke about the struggle of women around the world & especially the women of Iran who have been unjustly jailed for 10 years just for singing solo or resisting forced hijab.